Bureaucracies routinely fail to see the full humanity of the citizens they are built to serve (Scott, 1998). That disrespect is common and it is harmful. Philosophers tell us that dignity is the inalienable spark of humanity. Recognising and respecting that dignity can be a vital force in social relations. Yet it is only now that social scientists have begun to take up this work, and remake these philosophical ideas into tools, ready for policymakers to employ.
There is a public health imperative: research has shown that it has real consequences for health (Mann & Gruskin, 1995), wellbeing (Wein, 2020), stress (Chilton, 2006). What could be more urgent, as our health service creaks under the weight of Covid?
There is a racial justice imperative. The Windrush scandal revolved around a failure of the Home Office to see the humanity of those they were dealing with. What does it mean, to say that a life matters? It is a question asked by last summer‚’s calls for racial justice. Dignity asks that question too, and research shows a dignity frame can reduce racial animus (Huo & Molina, 2006).
There is a political tribalism imperative. As we seek to heal the wounds of Brexit, we must ensure people feel heard by the state (Sobolewska & Ford, 2020). We must foster understanding between partisan groups who are not much inclined to listen to one another. A dignity frame addresses this (Fierke, 2015; Voltmer & Lalljee, 2007; Lalljee et al, 2013).
Everyone from the new US President Elect to the UN Secretary General is sounding the alert. The UK government should be listening too. Nobel Prize-winning economists Esther Duflo and Abhijeet Banerjee recently wrote, ‚’Restoring human dignity to its central place, we argue in this book, sets off a profound rethinking of economic priorities.‚’